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February 19, 2016

Kickbacks, Opportunism, and Fake Awards, Oh My: Three Solicitation Alerts

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware


You may or may not have heard of Bookfuel, a self-publishing services provider with a unique (as far as I know, anyway) twist: you don't pay upfront, but over time, with a monthly fee. Your fee gets you a basic suite of services; there are additional services you can buy a la carte. There's nothing unique about any of them, and Bookfuel is definitely on the high end, costwise: between $2,500 and $4,100, all told, depending on which package you choose.

Like any self-pub service provider, Bookfuel wants customers, and one of the way it apparently hopes to get them is by referral. To sweeten the deal, it's offering something many people find hard to resist: a kickback. A freelance editor forwarded me this solicitation she received:

Do I need to say that it's unethical for an editor (or any other professional) to refer a client to a paying service in exchange for money? Especially if she doesn't disclose the fee?

10% of $4,100 is not chump change. I wonder how many editors will say "yes."

Encircle Publications

Recently, Five Star Publications, a division of Gale/Cengage Learning, decided to discontinue its mystery fiction line. This week, some Five Star mystery authors received a solicitation from Encircle Publications, a publishing services provider:
We’re contacting you because we were recently informed of the upcoming demise of the Five Star Mystery line. You might be wondering who Encircle Publications are. If you look on the back covers of the books you’ve had published with Five Star, you’ll notice that the cover design credit reads: ENC Graphic Services. That’s us! So yes, we are also affected by your publisher’s (our client’s) move to end this genre line. Yet, when one door closes it's time to open another...

We wanted to reach out to you to let you know that we can be a valuable resource to you as you consider your next steps. Many authors (perhaps you or your Five Star Mystery peers) are choosing to go independent and become their own publishers, and why not? The advantages are obvious: greater control over the finished product, and 100% ownership and rights, which also means 100% of the profits from sales of your books. But how do you make it happen? Without the expertise of editing, book layout/pagination, eBook conversions, cover design, and marketing, how are you supposed to make yourself stand out and look as good as the traditional publishers do?

That’s where we come in. We’ve been publishing journals and books for over 20 years as Encircle Publications. In 2014 we re-branded to bring ENC Graphic Services under the full umbrella of Encircle Publications and began offering publishing services to independent authors and small publishing houses. Should you choose to go the self-publishing route you can feel confident in looking to us for the same kind of professional design and layout services you've enjoyed with the traditional model. What’s more is that we can up your game and your marketing profile even higher by offering services such as website development and marketing materials.
I don't see anything red flag-ish at Encircle's website, and, compared to similar service providers, its costs are in the midrange. However, one wonders how Encircle got all these writers' email addresses. If Five Star enabled this solicitation, I think it's pretty poor form.

Five Star authors who are considering going the self-pub route should be aware that they have a plethora of options, and that careful research is in order. Writer Beware's Self-Publishing page provides a full discussion, plus links to helpful resources.

Book Excellence Awards

I've heard from several authors who have been solicited by an apparently brand-new awards program: the Book Excellence Awards (BEA for short--get it?), which bills itself as "a global celebration of literary excellence".

All the markers are present for an awards profiteer (an awards program that's intended not to honor writers, but to make money for the sponsor): a hefty entry fee ($65 for one category, more if you want to enter multiple categories), an absurd number of entry categories (over 130), unnamed judges ("a librarian, bookseller, publisher and an author"), unnamed sponsors ("The awards were started by executives who have valuable experience in the publishing industry"), non-prize prizes (a "commemorative certificate", website and social media listings, and unspecified "marketing and promotional opportunities"), and the option--no doubt heavily promoted--to buy more stuff (stickers for your book cover).

There are many of these profiteering awards programs (I've written about a number of them), which prey on writers' hunger for recognition and exposure but offer little or no benefit despite their grand promises and high fees. Don't fall for these cynical attempts to make an easy buck.  


marla miller said...

frankly, I think this is where it's going....agents get 15% for placement to a house...10% is less....
you can call it kickback..or 'finders fee' for referring...
marla miller

Anonymous said...

Agents, good ones, do a whole lot more for the fee than just placing your book.

Victoria Strauss said...

A kickback is a payment to the referrer by a third party. But a literary agent's commission (like a real estate agent's commission) isn't paid by the publisher, but by the author, out of his or her advances and royalties. Also, since earning on commission means the agent doesn't make money unless the author does, this payment structure ensures that the agent is highly motivated to make the best possible deal.

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